Chapter 101: Dress as a Commoner
"I have lost all hope of exposing his crimes, but here you are, offering me an opportunity. It's just that – "
"You have nothing to worry about," said Nan Xun. "This gentleman will make the necessary arrangements, and you will be under my protection."
The woman dropped down to the ground, looking up at Nan Xun with teary eyes. "This woman thought that the men who murdered my loved ones would never be brought to justice. I am fortunate to have met you and your companion. As long as I can avenge my family, I will happily give away my life. I beg you to make sure that those criminals get what they deserve." Her tears fell to the ground and seeped into the earth. Their traces disappearing in the blink of an eye.
The news was soon brought to Jun Huang's attention. When she met the woman, the woman immediately knelt down before her. "Thank you for saving my life. This woman must first take my revenge. Once I have achieved my goal, I will serve you like I would my parents."
Jun Huang took a deep breath, her eyes bright. "Do you understand that you will be putting yourself in great danger?" Jun Huang explained to her the risks she would face. She might end up losing her life for nothing.
The woman looked Jun Huang straight in the eyes. "I've made up my mind. If I can bring those men to justice, I don't care if the emperor decides to kill me afterwards. My life isn't worth much. I'll consider it a bargain if I can drag them to hell with me."
Jun Huang let out a sigh. She could tell the woman would not be swayed. She helped the woman up and told Little Girl to prepare an ink brush and a sheet of paper.
The woman looked at Jun Huang questioningly, but didn't ask her any questions.
Once the writing instruments were prepared, Jun Huang said, "Write a letter of indictment. That will help your case."
The woman blinked and looked down at the ground, her face flushed in embarrassment. "This woman has read books before, but… what I read were teachings on ways to be a good woman. I don't know how to write a letter of indictment."
Jun Huang fell silent. She could understand the woman's predicament. She picked up the brush and dipped it in ink. It didn't take too long for her to write a powerful letter of indictment. The words conjured up the image of a tragic woman exposing her bloody heart for all to see.
Jun Huang put down the brush and blew on the still damp ink. Because of her injured palm, even those who were familiar with her handwritings wouldn't be able to tell that the letter had been written by her.
The woman read over the letter. Tears streamed down her cheeks and dripped onto the paper, which added a touch of sorrow to the already moving writing.
Jun Huang handed the woman the evidence she and Nan Xun had collected. "In an hour, the emperor will leave for the exam location to light the incense sticks, praying for the imperial court to gather new talent. That will be your chance to bring this case to him. If you miss this window, it will be difficult to find another opportunity. Nonetheless, no one would blame you if you are scared."
The woman looked up at Jun Huang with determined eyes. "I've come this far, and I've had the fortune to know you two," she said, shaking her head. "I will not fear death. The gentleman doesn't have to worry."
Jun Huang nodded and left with Little Girl.
When the time came, the woman waited at the spot the emperor was sure to pass through.
From afar, she could see the man dressed in golden robe sitting on a sedan chair. Her heart was in her throat, and her palms were damp. She had thought that she was ready to die for her cause! And yet when she was faced with the possibility, she still felt intimidated.
No one could be truly fearless in face of death.
The sedan chair got closer and closer. Soon, it was right before her. She ground her teeth together and clenched her fists. Her nails burrowed into her palms almost deep enough to break the skin.
She ran out and knelt down directly in front of the sedan chair.
The emperor's guards hurriedly drew their weapons, thinking that this was an assassination attempt. They let out a sigh of relief when they saw that the figure was merely a frail woman.
The eunuch at the emperor's side looked at her and said in a high-pitched voice, "Who are you? How dare you block His Majesty's way? Do you have a death wish?"
The woman bowed and raised the letter of indictment and the evidence above her head. In a steely voice, she said, "This peasant has been wronged. I beg Your Majesty to seek justice for this peasant."
The eunuch scoffed. He was just about to cursed her out when the emperor cut in. "Tell me whatever injustice you think you've suffered," he said coldly.
"The prefect of Yangzhou cares not about human lives. His son tried to force himself on this woman. When I resisted, he murdered my… my entire family. This woman was fortunate to have escaped. In addition, I possess evidence showing that the prefect raised taxes unbeknownst to the imperial court. I beg Your Majesty to get to the bottom of this matter."
The woman kowtowed to the emperor earnestly. The emperor huffed. "Do you know what will happen to you if you commit libel against an official?"
"This woman has been telling the truth. Here are the evidence and the letter of indictment."
The emperor shot the eunuch a look, silently ordering him to take the documents from the woman. The eunuch had no other choice but to obey. Watching her with cold eyes, he took the documents and respectfully presented them to the emperor.
The emperor's eyes went cold as he read. He didn't do anything that might damage his image in front of the people, but it felt as if his heart was in a tight grip.
He knew that he could not hold every official to the highest moral standards. Fish could not survive in water that was completely clear. That was why he turned a blind eye on some of the corrupt officials. Nevertheless, he didn't expect the prefect to be so disrespectful of the law of the land, and he didn't expect a woman to expose the matter in public. It was a personal insult to him! As the supreme leader of the country, he would not let this offense go unpunished. He clutched the evidence in his hand and leveled his guards with a cold stare. "Go to Yangzhou and arrest the prefect."
He turned to the woman, then to the eunuch. Without missing a beat, the eunuch said, "The prefect's crimes have not been proven yet. You are the one who claimed that he has committed the crimes. You have to be questioned by the Court of Judicial Review."
"This woman has nothing to hide. There is no reason for me to refuse."
She didn't know that the emperor had already made the decision to kill her. The moment she was put into a cell, she was never meant to be released.
Nan Xun and Jun Huang had promised to keep her safe. Once the prefect was arrested, they would rescue the woman.
The emperor made quick work of the prefect, but said nothing about what to do with the woman. The officials in charge of the Court of Judicial Review didn't dare to make a move without his say so. They kept the woman in the jail, which made it easier for Jun Huang to get her out.
The woman looked at Jun Huang with tears in her eyes. Jun Huang sighed. She knew what she was thinking. "Don't enter the imperial city again. Let everyone forget about your existence. The perpetrators have been apprehended. Your family has been avenged. Stop dwelling on your hatred. Live your life to the fullest. That's the best thing you can do for your loved ones."
There were a thousand words the woman would like to say, but in the end she only uttered a simple "Thank you." Jun Huang noticed that it was getting late. She told Little Girl to hand the woman some silvers before watching her leave on a coach.
Looking at the silvers in her hand, the woman started sobbing. She clutched her clothes tight to suppress her sorrow. She reminded herself to memorize what her saviors looked like. She thought back to what Jun Huang had said. In the end, she settled down in a remote and peaceful town. She prayed for Jun Huang and Nan Xun every day.
That was the best possible ending to the woman's story. There were too much suffering in the world. It was a good thing to keep one's distance from conflicts. Jun Huang was able to convince the woman to let go of her hatred. She couldn't, however, tell herself to do the same. Some hatred was too heavy a burden. Once it was on your shoulders, it was difficult to take off.
The prefect was part of Qi Chen's circle. He was also a major source of income for Qi Chen. Half of the bribe money the prefect took went directly to Qi Chen. Now the prefect had been dealt with. Qi Chen couldn't do anything about it no matter how angry he was. He could only be more careful.
Nonetheless, Jun Huang was not willing to let him off the hook. She was already planning how she could take out some of the other officials in Qi Chen's circle.
The emperor had been in a dark mood lately. The fact that there were even more students who had bought the exam questions was the last straw. He ordered the court to conduct an in depth investigation. Every student currently in the imperial city was living in fear. Even the innocent ones were afraid that they might be affected.
The Court of Judicial Review had to look into the corrupt officials with Qi Yun taking the lead. They were having troubles sparing enough manpower to investigate the metropolitan exam. The emperor ordered Nan Xun to assist the court. The exam must be held without delay.
Qi Yun finally had the time to take a breather. He invited Jun Huang for a talk at the Top Scholar Tavern.
As its name suggested, the tavern was a must visit for the examinees. Allegedly, every top scholar in history had been to this tavern. It seemed as if every single scholar taking the exam was in this room.
Jun Huang was worried that some of the people here might have seen her in the tavern where she met Qin Sheng. She put on some plain clothes and added a few moles on her face before coming here with Qi Yun. She kept her guard up.
The moment she walked in, she was faced with the arrogant man who had insulted her in the other tavern. She huffed. Even knowledgeable men like Qin Sheng had bought the exam questions. She was surprised that this man had not.
Before she could get close, she heard the man having a debate on how they could apply their studies with other scholars. Jun Huang threw a glance at Qi Yun and sauntered up to them. Qi Yun had changed out of his court attire, but the silk robe he wore still attracted too much attention. He picked a spot near the wall and eavesdropped on their conversation.
Jun Huang pretended to be someone taking the exam this year and partook in the discussion. She found out that the man was known as the best scholar in Yangzhou. She was surprised and unconvinced. As she expected, he wasn't able to make any comments on the ancient texts Jun Huang brought up. He stuttered and claimed that Jun Huang was being hard on him on purpose.
The other men smiled awkwardly. They didn't know how to diffuse the situation. Jun Huang looked at him with cold eyes before putting on a smile. "Does this brother know what makes one a loyal servant, and what makes one a lowly thief?"
The man frowned and pushed Jun Huang away. He had had enough! "So what if I don't know? Do you want me to ask my dad to disqualify you?"
Jun Huang widened her eyes slightly. One of the other men couldn't stand on the sideline anymore. He pulled at Jun Huang's clothes and whispered, "It's better that you stop this. He is from an obscenely rich family. Perhaps he truly can make you disqualified."
Jun Huang fell silent. The arrogant man thought that she was scared. He continued to boast about his family. Jun Huang drowned out his meaningless words. This man had been pontificating about his ambitions, and yet he could not give an answer to any of her questions. He knew nothing. There must be something fishy going on.